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Mt. Elliot Makerspace

The Mt. Elliott Makerspace in Detroit is a community resource for children, teens and adults to learn about anything from computers to electronics to building bikes. The idea is that people will actively educate themselves and each other about how to accomplish their projects and develop skills to improve their lives. 
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
Mt. Elliot Makerspace Conductor Jeff Sturges: We’re a mix of many different ideas and movements: part maker, part hacker, part local production, part reinventing learning. We are a community of local makers, people with the creativity, skills, and confidence that are essential to address any challenge that is posed to them and who feel empowered to make better, more satisfying and healthier lives for themselves and their communities.
What are the keys to success for your program?
A supportive environment is one of the biggest keys to our success. It was really contrary to my thinking when I started this program. I thought we would focus on making things, but it was much more important for us to be in a place that had some community energy versus trying to create that community energy. It is a religious community that is religiously liberal, with a lot of people around. [Mt. Elliot Makerspace is housed in the Church of the Messiah].
If someone does something good it’s broadcast to the community on Sundays. Also, if someone screws up they are criticized widely in many ways. If you screw up and you’re stupid, they’re going to get on your case. What we do is highly relevant to people’s needs and desires. For example, we focus on bikes because transportation is a problem. A lot of the kids who come in to use the computer are doing it to make art in whatever form they think is appropriate, and the digital divide is an
What we do is highly relevant to people's needs and desires. For example, we focus on bikes because transportation is a problem.
important factor in that.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
A big goal of mine is to do this as cheaply as possible and challenge others. You can do a lot with volunteers, but with being a volunteer their volunteer commitment is generally someone’s third priority after their family and their job. It’s hard to do more without more resources. There is a balance between how much we can with do with how much support we have. The goal is that we would be self-sustaining with small businesses that people have created through their work here. The biggest challenge by far is that struggle. It’s also getting better at communication: sharing what we’re doing and sharing the model of what are doing.
How does your program take a collective, collaborative approach to creating systemic change for children?
We try to not to dictate our programming or projects; we try to pull information from the youth and the adults, but in a participatory way. We throw youth as much as possible into a project. With this new type of idea, with a makerspace, we are
It's mostly a balance between pulling ideas from the youth and presenting them with challenges they can do.
oftentimes saying to our participants, “You can make all this stuff. What do you want to do?” We sometimes have to present ideas for them to get the gears going. It’s mostly a balance between pulling ideas from the youth and presenting them with challenges they can do. It’s a mix of openness for them to try things on their own and showing them that there are some selections for them to try.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest lesson is that I’m so interested in doing everything and so interested in providing so many options that I can’t possibly do everything given our finite resources. That’s not so much from a financial perspective as a time perspective. The challenge is that I have got to prioritize and accept the reality of finite resources of time, money and people. We have grown so much, and we’re not completely spread out in our space, but we’re getting there. Accessibility is a challenge as well, and what the results are of the limitation or implication of that.
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  • Mt. Elliot Makerspace
    The Mt. Elliott Makerspace is a community workshop where people make, tinker and learn together. We do this to strengthen ourselves and our communities.


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